Monday, October 29, 2012

Think You Know Brazil? Test Yourself!

I just found this interactive quiz about Brazil on the Christian Science Monitor's website. There is no date given for it, so I don't know how long it's been there, but it's a fun way to check your knowledge of Brazil.  

Some of the questions are really easy, some are medium, and some are very difficult. 

There's a good mix of politics, history, culture, sports, and questions about demographics and crime statistics. I managed to score 26 out of 33, for an average of 79%....which I am arbitrarily rounding up to 80%.

I did better on the questions about politics, history, and culture than I did with the ones about sports and crime statistics.

The test takes about 10 minutes, depending on how fast you go, of course. After each response, you are shown if your answer was correct, and if it wasn't, the correct answer is highlighted.  There is a running total of how you're doing, too.

Some of the answers were very surprising to me, but I don't want to say which ones because I don't want to give away any of the correct responses, so you'll have to go and see for yourself! 

Update: The CSM has a 20-item quiz about Latin American geography, too. This is a lot easier than the Brazil quiz: I got 19 out of 20 right, and some are very easy, even for geographically-challenged North Americans.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

New York Times To Launch Brazilian Digital Edition in 2013

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that the New York Times plans to launch an online Brazilian edition in 2013.  

The digital edition will contain Portuguese translations of articles that appeared in English in the newspaper, as well as original content aimed specifically at Brazilian readers.  The Brazilian edition will contain about 40 articles each day, and of those, about a third will be local content.

The following quote by NY Times Chair Arthur Sulzburger is from the article, and summarizes the reasons for the Times developing a Brazilian edition:

"Brazil is an international hub for business that boasts a robust economy, which has brought more and more people into the middle class," said New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "As the world gets smaller and digital technology enables us to reach around the globe to attract readers with an interest in high quality news, Brazil is a perfect place for The New York Times to take the next step in expanding our global reach."

Note that Sulzburger specifically singles out Brazil's importance as a center for international trade, its strong economy, and the growth of its middle class as primary reasons for launching a Brazilian edition of the Times.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Good, Brief Summary of the "Mensalão" Scandal

The good people at Street Smart Brazil shared this link from the Economist on their Facebook page a few days ago. If you haven't "liked" their FB page yet, do it now, and also check out their excellent website.  

The article contains an excellent summary of the "mensalão" scandal, and the importance of the unexpectedly strong verdicts that the court has already issued.  The way this scandal is being treated could mark a significant shift in the attitude that Brazilian politicians have toward corruption, because so many of them are already facing real consequences for their crimes.  

This is an important story that has been under-reported in the American media, but unfortunately, our press and even our government seem to persist in having an archaic and paternalistic attitude towards Latin American countries. As if they were little children, Latin Americans only get our attention when we think that they are misbehaving. Think about it: Latin America makes the news when we're threatened by a leader like Hugo Chávez, who is too far left for our own tastes; or when Mexican drug violence spreads across the border; or if something bad happens to Americans who are traveling in Latin America. 

When President Obama failed to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister a few weeks ago in New York, it turned into a major talking point in the Republican campaign.  When he didn't meet with Dilma Rousseff, the leader of the sixth largest economy in the world, with whom the US is currently sparring over tariffs, it doesn't even make the radar. 

Don't even get me started on our educational system's focus on European history and culture at the expense of Latin America. I'll save that for a separate post!

Update: Here's another article about the "mensalão," this time from the Financial Times, in which the author explores the implications of the verdicts as seen by financial analysts. Interesting perspective.  

Source: Street Smart Brazil; The Economist

Film Review: "The Man Who Copied" ("O Homem Que Copiava")

This film surprised me, and in all the right ways. The opening is low-key, and it seems as if the movie might just turn out to be an inner monologue by the main character, André, played brilliantly by Lázaro Ramos. 

Nineteen-year-old André operates a photocopy machine at a stationery store in Porto Alegre, hence the title of the film. With his minimal salary, he would be what we might call a member of the "working poor." He does not live in a favela nor does he lead a life of grinding poverty. Instead, he shares a modest and clean apartment with his mother in what looks like a working-class neighborhood.  

This alone made the film interesting to me, since so many Brazilian movies are about favelas, drugs, gang violence, extreme poverty, and/or political corruption. The exceptions to these themes often focus on the lives of the upper middle class or the very wealthy, so with this film, we get a glimpse of the lives of those who are neither extremely poor, nor extremely rich.

During his free time, André draws, mostly cartoons, which are used as animations throughout the film to reinforce the plot, and to illustrate André's view of what's going on around him. André also uses a pair of binoculars to view his neighbors from his bedroom window. Now, this sort of thing would normally seem creepy, but in André's case, it's no more disturbing than watching Jimmy Stewart use his binoculars in the classic Hitchcock film "Rear Window," or more recently, Shaia LaBeouf in "Disturbia."

The primary object of André's long-distance viewing is Sílvia (Leandra Leal), a girl his age who lives in a nearby building. He manages to follow her one day and is able to find out that she works at a woman's clothing store, and he even works up the nerve to go in and ask to look at a bathrobe for his mother.  He chats somewhat awkwardly with Silvia, and then goes on his way.

Meanwhile, back at the stationery store, we meet André's co-worker Miranês (Luana Piovani), a beautiful and confident young woman. Among other things, she informs André that she has to lie down in order to put on her very tight pants, and that she only dates wealthy men.  When André asks if she wants to go to the opening of a new bar, she agrees, but makes it clear that she is bringing her own date.  At the bar, André meets the man in question, Cardoso, played with great comedic talent by Pedro Cardoso. On the surface, Cardoso is cocky and confident, but within a minute or two, everyone, including André, can see that it's a lot of talk (and in Cardoso's case, there is a *lot* of talk: he spends his first moments on screen explaining that he dislikes the metal tables in the bar, giving a detailed description of how one time, a glass of whisky slid right off a metal table).  

So we now have the four main characters of what is essentially an ensemble film, and their similarities and contrasts make for a dynamic that is never boring and often very funny.  

André sees Sílvia on the bus, and they talk long enough for him to commit to returning to the shop to buy the robe for his mother.  The problem is that the robe costs R$ 38, and he has no money.  

The solution presents itself when his boss gives him a R$ 50 bill and asks that he pay a bill for him.  André agrees, and asks to stay in the store after work, in order to learn how to operate the new color copier that has just been installed.  It takes him 5 hours to make a reasonable forgery of the bill, but he manages to do it.  

The next day, he buys a lottery ticket with the forged bill, and with the change he receives, is able to buy the robe.  

This marks the end of the first half of the film, which is almost an exposition that lays the groundwork for the second half.  Some critics have described the rest of the film as a jarring and even unacceptable turn of events, but I strongly disagree.  I can't go into details without spoiling the story, so you'll have to watch the film yourself to find out why there is some controversy, but I can say that the film does change from what seems like an innocent, almost naive story, to one in which a certain amount of criminal activity occurs. 

No, it does not turn into a blood-soaked story of rampant violence, but it gets darker.  However, the characters remain appealing throughout, and the film itself remains essentially a romantic comedy. Some critics complain that the film seems to be saying that money is the only way to find happiness, but I also reject that statement.  As I read some of the critical reviews, it struck me that they were written by people who have certain expectations for what a film, especially a foreign film, should be.  If you accept the movie on its own terms and don't look for deeper hidden meanings, it's thoroughly enjoyable and a lot of fun. It is worth watching just to see the incredible range of facial expressions that Ramos uses as he is involved in increasingly complex events. 

I watched this film twice after receiving it from Netflix, and will watch it again before I return it.  It is officially on my list of top 5 Brazilian films.  

It includes a feature on the making of the movie, which is better than many I have seen.  Subtitles are legible and seem fairly accurate, but they have a sort of fuzzy look, as if you can see pixelated edges to the letters.  No big deal, but is it that much more expensive to do quality, higher-definition subtitles?  

Language note: be prepared to hear the widespread use of "tu" with the third person singular verb form. From what I have read online, this is not uncommon in Porto Alegre. 

Highly recommended.  


  • DVD for sale at Amazon (note: the cover art on Amazon is for another film)
  • DVD rental from Netflix